Ella Nelson paced the Walla Walla High School cross country team Wednesday afternoon in Mid-Columbia Conference running over Fort Walla Walla’s 5,000-meter course.
Nelson won the girls’ race in 19:13.57, defeating her Kennewick nemesis, Geraldin Correa, by almost three seconds.
Correa came home in 19:16.33.
Nelson and Correa went to the front early and broke away from the pack. The two were stride for stride through the first park loop.
When they came around the second time, Nelson had opened a 15-yard lead.
Correa never got closer.
“I gained more confidence at the end of the (2018) track season (she finished second in state Class 4A in the 1,600),” Nelson said. “The result today was a surprise. Over the summer, I sprained my ankle twice and had a hip injury. It felt good to have a good race. I was scared that I pulled away too fast. I stayed with her (Correa) a little bit, then started to feel better and just moved out. We’re always neck-and-neck. She is really fun competition.
“My hip still bugs me a little bit,” the fifth-place finisher in the 2018 state 4A cross country championship added. “I think with time it will get better.”
“A small surprise that Ella did that well,” Blue Devils coach Mike Locati said. “She has battled that hip problem and we weren’t sure where her conditioning was. Her and Correa always battle. Ella (today) was able to pull away and maintain the lead.”
On the boys’ side, Blue Devils Cooper Cortinas and Cannon Angotti were the non-Kamiakin finishers in the top seven.
Cortinas, third in 16:21.07, and Angotti, fourth in 16:29.81, were a part of the four-man pack that outdistanced the fifth-place finisher by more than 22 seconds.
Kamiakin’s Stanford Smith won the race in 16:00.14, and fellow Brave Isaac Teeples ran second in 16:04.90.
Angotti grabbed an early lead and paced the four lead runners through the first lap of the park.
“At the beginning, no one was taking the lead,” Angotti said. “Since they did not want to set the pace, I decided to do it.”
By the second time through the park, Smith and Teeples had grabbed the lead, and Cortinas had moved to third. The two front-runners stretched it out the rest of the way to win by 17 seconds over third-place finisher Cortinas.
“They like to draft off us,” Angotti continued. “Then they just keep going. They were just a little too much today. Cooper and I came off a tough race Saturday, and didn’t quite have it today.”
“I’ve been hurt (with a sore shin) for a month,” Cortinas said. “I didn’t have the stamina today. I thought I could hang with them, but they were a little too much. I’m real happy that I could hang with them for as long as I did and not die too hard.
“It’s awesome to run with Cannon,” he continued. “Beating him is my main goal every race. I need to dig up mileage and get back in form. I was 23rd last year at state and hope, with a good race, for a top-three finish this year.”
“Cooper has shin problems, and it’s been me running a lot of miles,” Angotti added. “My health has been fine and, hopefully, Cooper will be back. He (beat me) this time, but I got him last time. It (losing to Cooper) is not happening again.”
“Those four guys are some of the best runners in the state,” Locati said of the two top Kamiakin and Wa-Hi runners. “Smith and Teeples will be among the top 3A runners. Our two will be high in the 4A ranks. They (Cortinas and Angotti) both hung in there today.”
On the girls’ side, Wa-Hi sophomore Sariah Hepworth was the next Blue Devil to finish behind Nelson. Hepworth finished 10th in 20:58.61.
Hepworth was 17th after the first lap around the picnic area, improved to 16th after the first lap through the park, and moved to 10th after the second park lap, and held on the rest of the way to take 10th.
“It was all about my mindset,” Hepworth said. “I tried to get in a positive set. I got to my pace, stayed there and moved up. Training wise, I can see room for improvement. I will try to get a pace where I can compete better in the races.”
“Sariah is coming on,” Locati said. “She gets a little better each day. By the end of the season, she could move up.”
For the Wa-Hi boys after Cortinas and Angotti, Isaac Fraser ran to 17th in 17:44.89.
Braden Hisaw finished 20th in 17:56.59, Blaz Rietz was 27th in 18:12.35, Ethan Haugen was 45th in 18:46.73, and Shawn Adams finished 48th in 18:52.62 to complete the Wa-Hi boys contingent.
On the girls’ side, Eleah Dalgleish ran to 34th in 22:38.13.
In the middle of the field, Blue Devil runners took four of five places. Ava Nelson (22:56.24), Addison Taylor (22:56.80), Sydney Weston (22:57.48) were interrupted by Southridge’s McKenna Crum before Olivia Isenhower rounded out the Blue Devil day with a run of 23:07.59.
The meet drew all MCC teams for the first league meet of the year.
The Kamiakin boys took first with a dominating 21 points. Wa-Hi finished second with 71 points.
The Richland girls took top prize on the girls side with 62 points. The Blue Devils finished fifth with 124.
“This is a tough course,” Locati summarized. “We had some nagging injuries and this meet was not about times. We will get stronger as the season progresses.”